The UK Riots and Knee Jerk "Justice"

By Michael Edmonds 20/08/2011

“Civilization is hideously fragile… there’s not much between us and the Horrors underneath, just about a coat of varnish.”  ~C.P. Snow

The recent riots across England demonstrate that there is certainly truth in the above quotation. There is a darker side to human nature, which may be readily come to the surface particularly, in this case, where groups of disaffected people gather together.

While most of us consider ourselves to be law abiding and good people, psychologists have demonstrated that under the right conditions almost all of us are capable of committing some of terrible acts (see youtube clip below)

This, of course, does not excuse the actions of those who took part in the riots. It is reasonable that criminal acts be punished, however, can justice prevail when it is dealt out as rapidly as it is being dealt out at the moment in England, particularly when the public is still so fired up about it? I would argue that the politicians are creating another “groupthink” in the public arena in order TO BE SEEN TO be doing something about it.

In pushing for severe (and inconsistent) punishment of those involved in the riots, I fear that once everyone has been sentenced that the British government may see their job as done thereby allowing them to gloss over some of the underlying potential causes of the riots, for example, poverty and social inequality. Unless such societal challenges are dealt with, I cannot see that there is any way to guarantee that future riots will not occur.